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  • Writer's pictureJagger Brocious

Motivation in Training

Alright, it has been a few months since I have had the pleasure of talking with people about more of the science of what I do. Bear with me as I want to scratch that itch and hopefully in doing so clients can get something out of it! Alright this Science series will reference "How Dog's Learn" by Mary Burch again. She didn't invent the wheel but she explains it well in her book! It's definitely a collage level read but it's so worth the wealth of knowledge and new perspective on dogs and their behaviors.

But let's break down the quadrants of behaviorism. Now anyone who has taken a basic phycology class might connect some dots as the same rules for humans apply to canine companions! Everything breaks down to Reinforcement or Punishment. Everything in this world is either reinforcing or punishing behavior. Food tastes good so we eat it, rotten food smells bad so we avoid it. But one thing that always caught my students off-guard is the terminology of the four quadrants so let me break down Reinforcement and Punishment.


Reinforcement is to well reinforce behavior. It's what we use to make a behavior more likely to occur. But at times its accidently used to reinforce bad habits without you even realizing it! As I break down the two kinds of reinforcements please keep this in mind.

Reinforcement = makes things more likely to occur.


Punishment is to decrease any behavior. It's what we use to make a behavior less likely to occur. But punishment gets a bad rap in training, it doesn't mean we have to hit a dog! Everyone who trains a dog uses punishment. (Even those who claim to be purely positive but that's a subject for another post.) I'll break down the individual punishment's below.

Punishment= makes things less likely to occur.

Positive and Negative in Reinforcement and Punishment

Alright, so far it's been straightforward and hopefully I don't loose you at this next bit. There are four quadrants. Where there is Reinforcement and Punishment there are two kinds of each! Let's break down the term and go from there.


In terms of the quadrants the term negative doesn't outright mean bad. Negative means to subtract or to take something away or withholding something.

Negative = Taking something away


In terms of the quadrants the term positive means adding something. But like with negatives it does not mean the dog has to like it!

Positive = Adding something

Let's put everything together!

We've talked about the terms now it's time to put them together and talk about all four of the quadrants. I'll throw some examples in to to help. Just keep in mind what was broken down above as I explain them all.

Positive Reinforcement

In the terms about we talked about being Positive = Adding and Reinforcement = more likely to occur. That being said Positive Reinforcement then is to add something to make the behavior more likely to occur. Yes, everyone knows this one. Any good trainer uses treats, toys, praise, or something to reinforce behavior.

Positive Reinforcement = Adding something to make a behavior more likely to occur

Some examples

I want my dog to sit so I give my dog a treat for sitting.

My dog drops the ball so I throw it for him to fetch it!

My dog walks by my side so I praise him with a "good boy"

Negative Reinforcement

In keeping with the theme Negative = Taking away and Reinforcement = still means more likely to occur. With this one we are taking something away to make something more likely to occur. This one often gets confused with Negative Punishment which we will talk about in a bit. Negative Reinforcement can be referred to as escape conditioning or avoidance conditioning but the idea is the dog learns to do the thing to get away from something they don't like.

Negative Reinforcement = Taking something away to make a behavior more likely to occur

Some examples

I want my dog to sit so I add pressure to his rear end until he sits. I then remove the pressure when he is seated.

I don't like my dog digging, so I yell at my dog until he stops.

Also the way I teach obedience with a remote collar is Negative Reinforcement. I want my dog to come back to me, I apply a working level until he returns.

Positive Punishment

By now you are probably sick of the repetition but bear with me! The Positive = Adding and Punishment = making it less likely to occur. This is the most commonly though about punishment's as when people think about it they think about aversive's. Something is added to make a behavior less likely to occur. Things like a prong collar, bark collar, rolling up a newspaper.

Positive Punishment = Adding something to make a behavior less likely to occur

Some examples

I don't want my dog barking, so I squirt him with a water bottle when he barks.

I don't want my dog pulling on leash so I pop his collar when he pulls.

I don't want my dog jumping on me, so I knee him in the chest.

Negative Punishment

This one brings us back to my little comment earlier about "Purely Positive" training. As by the vary science there is no only positive training. The Negative = Taking away and the Punishment = making it less likely to occur. Any time a dog doesn't get what it wants we are using Negative Punishment. The most common can be withholding a treat, a time out, or ignoring a dog barking in a crate.

Negative Punishment = Taking something away to make a behavior less likely to occur

Some examples

I don't want my puppy to jump on me for attention, so I ignore them.

I ask my dog to sit and he refuses, so I withhold a treat.

My dog is being rude in play, so I put him in time out.

My dog pee's in the house, so I crate him as punishment.

Applications can be tricky

Alright, now that I have crammed some definitions into you and we have covered all four quadrants we need to talk about the tricky part. One dog's reward is another dogs punishment! Also, we can't isolate every behavior a dog has to the part we want to happen or want to prevent. The art meets the science in application when it comes to dog training.


I've met a dog who HATES a spray bottle of water. So spraying her with water is punishment.

I've also trained a dog who LOVED water. So I used a spay bottle as reinforcement.

I like that my dog recalled to me so I want to reward him with a treat for coming back. But when he came back he jumped on me. He now thinks jumping on me is why he got the treat!

I don't like my dog barking in the crate. I yell his name and look at him... The dog was excited I looked at him so I reinforced fussing.

Being honest the list goes on and on and these applications are why people often times need a trainer. By the time I'm done with a client they have the right skillset and knowledge to self identify some problems with motivation. But at the end of the day the golden rule is to ask yourself this simple question.

Why is he doing this?

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